Friday, March 30, 2012


Stephen Sommers, 2009
Starring: Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rachel Nichols, Marlon Wayans, Ray Park, Lee Byung-hun, Dennis Quaid

I can't believe I'm going to admit this, but I actually enjoyed G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra. Based on the G.I. Joe action figures created by Hasbro, the film takes most of its characters and plot from the cartoon series, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, and later comics of the same name. Though far from perfect, this sci-fi tinged action film feels like a living comic book and is plenty fun to keep its two-hour running time chugging along at a pleasant pace.

The plot is unfortunately long and complicated. James McCullen (Eccleston), owner of the M.A.R.S. weapons company, announces to the world that he has created advanced nanotechnology capable of destroying or repairing on a grand scale. The highly dangerous nanotech war-heads he has just sold to NATO are being transported by an elite unite headed by Duke (Tatum) and Ripcord (Wayans). They are ambushed by a mysterious woman, the Baroness (Miller), though they manage to hold on to the warheads. These are soon claimed by an even more elite, secret unit, the Joes, who take the warheads, plus an insistent Duke and Ripcord back to their base, hidden under the Egyptian desert. Duke reveals that the Baroness was his former fiancee, who hasn't spoken to him since the unfortunate death of her scientist brother several years earlier during a military accident. After strenuous testing and training, Duke and Ripcord are begrudgingly invited to join the team, which includes Snake Eyes (Park), a mute ninja, Breaker (Taghmaoui), a computer expert, the super-smart Scarlett (Nichols) and team leader Heavy Duty (Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Their commanding officer is General Hawk (Quaid).

Meanwhile it is revealed that the Baroness was trying to steal the warheads for McCullen. When they discover where the Joes are located, she begins a second mission with the help of the ninja Storm Shadow (Lee) and Zartan (Vosloo), another of McCullen's agents. They successfully acquire the warheads and flee to Paris, in order to force the Baroness's scientist husband to weaponize them. McCullen plans to combine the ultimate destruction caused by the warheads with the efficiency of his nano-controlled soldiers to take over the world. Helping him is the badly deformed Doctor (Gordon-Levitt), who has created a mind-control serum with the help of nanomites, which renders the soldiers obedient and immune to pain. Will the Joes be able to stop them?

Though this is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, it is a hell of a lot of fun. In some ways, it is in line with films like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter, in the sense that it feels a lot like a live-action cartoon. There are many plot holes and technological elements that make no sense, but Rise of Cobra ignores these things with gleeful abandon. The film is framed around action sequences and there should be enough of these to please long time fans and action film-lovers. Though the action can be a little cartoonish, in part due to some lousy CGI, we still get to see things like invisibility fatigues, jet-packs, the Accelerator suit and other high tech gadgets. The film also takes a lot of elements from the comic, giving it a slightly more grown up feel than the cartoon and mini-series. It is also family friendly, because the violence is completely bloodless and the humor stays safe and playful.

There are also a lot of bad things about Rise of Cobra, first and foremost the CGI. In parts, it is seamless, but most of the time it feels childish and unfinished, namely during the latter half of that film that takes place on the Arctic M.A.R.S. base. There are many things in the physical world of the film that are unnecessary and ostentatious that the budget simply can't support. Though the plot is relatively quick, there are some painful sequences when Sommers attempts to give us back story or personality development. The plot in general is full of holes and things that make absolutely no sense, like Scarlett displaying her knowledge of Scottish Gaelic military jargon. Another potential problem is that unless you already have a general familiarity with G.I. Joe, in particular the villains, things won't make a whole lot of sense.

It is fair to say that the acting is the worst part of the film with the Joes as the major offenders. I simply don't like Channing Tatum, though he looks the part. It's a shame he's devoid of any character or personality. Marlon Wayans delivers some predictably stupid comic lines and the rest of the Joes are forgettable, mostly because of the poor writing and lousy dialogue. Denis Quaid seems to enjoy his time as General Hawk and there's a cameo from an obviously excited Brendan Fraser. Ray Park's Snake Eyes is always worth watching, though notably, he has no dialogue. But that doesn't matter, because he kicks the living shit out of Storm Shadow.

As a kid, the Cobra villains were always my favorite part of the cartoon and they remain to be so in the film version. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fantastic as the Doctor (no spoilers here, buddy) and totally disappears into his role. Christopher Eccleston, whom I will watch in anything, is also great as the future Destro. Arnold Vosloo (the titular villain in Sommers's The Mummy) has a wonderful bit part as Zartan, Cobra Commander's later partner in crime and master of disguise. Lee Byung-hun is the perfect Storm Shadow. There's even a cameo from Kevin J. O'Connor as Doctor Mindbender and I couldn't help but wonder where he wandered off to over the course of the film. Though Eccleston and Gordon-Levitt will not appear in the sequel, I am still excited to see where the writers are going to take their characters. Fortunately Sienna Miller's Baroness will not return either. Though she's generally an enjoyable character in the comics, the stupid romantic connection between she and Duke ruined any of her bad-ass villain credibility. As did her acting.

If you're in the mood for something fun and silly, go with Rise of Cobra. Despite the horrible reviews, it's an entertaining film meant to be accompanied by lots of popcorn and candy. It's available on DVD and Blu-ray from Paramount, though I would avoid the latter because it will only draw attention to the occasionally painful, unfinished CGI scenes. There's already a trailer for the sequel, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which is due out later this year. Mystifyingly, almost the entire original cast is absent. Channing Tatum is slated to return, but more importantly we will get to see Ray Park as Snake Eyes and Lee Byung-hun as Storm Shadow. I don't know what the hell they're going to do with Cobra Commander, but at least it stars the Rock and has a cameo from Bruce Willis.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Alfred Hitchcock, 1976
Starring: Barbara Harris, Bruce Dern, William Devane, Karen Black

Like all of Hitchcock's final films, Family Plot has polarized critics and audiences, in no small part because it is Hitchcock's last work. This fun, if occasionally silly black comedy is a major departure from the violent, misanthropic serial killer film Frenzy, which directly precedes it, and bears little relation to Hitchcock's other works except for The Trouble with Harry or maybe North by Northwest.

Blanche, a fake medium, has been hired to find the missing nephew of a wealthy older woman. Julia Rainbird forced her sister to give up the child when he was an infant and has no knowledge of his current name or appearance. She will pay Blanche $10,000 to find him and restore him as the proper heir. Blanche gets her actor/taxi driver/con artist boyfriend George to pose as a private detective and help. A second couple, Arthur Adamson and his girlfriend Fran, are successful jewel thieves, kidnapping various high ranking men in exchange for gemstones. It turns out that Arthur is actually the Rainbird heir, though long ago he killed his adoptive parents and assumed a new identity. When Blanche and George begin to track him down, he assumes the worst and things take a dangerous turn.

Family Plot marks another collaboration between Hitchcock and writer Ernest Lehman, who also penned North by Northwest. The film is based on Victor Canning's novel The Rainbird Pattern. Allegedly Hitchcock and Lehman argued over the script, because Lehman wanted a darker film and Hitchcock steered him towards the comic elements he did so well with in North by Northwest. The two films both revolve around a case of confused identity and have the protagonists in a major car accident. Both of the resulting scripts have dark moments, but are also lighthearted and witty. Family Plot is certainly not without its flaws. There are some plodding moments in the film and this is the closest Hitchcock comes to campiness. The elegant atmosphere of his best-loved films is missed and the inclusion of many B-level actors is jarring. Some critics were outraged at the use of profanity and blatant sexual innuendo in the film.

There are also some wonderful things about Family Plot. The film is absolutely dripping with whimsy. Hitchcock takes an almost needlessly complicated plot and spins an entertaining yarn out of it, weaving all the threads together by the meta-theatrical conclusion where Blanche winks knowingly at the camera. This is the only time Hitchcock collaborated with John Williams, who gives him a near perfect score that emphasizes the danger and humor in equal measures. Hitchcock is also up to his usual thematic complexities. The film is largely concerned with doubling, disguise, and the fluid nature of identity. The two couples mirror one another and act as foils for each other. While Blanche and George have a crystal ball, Arthur and Fran have a large diamond. Both are fakes concerned with conning their way into wealth.

In a certain sense, this is also a return to form for Hitchcock, because it is a return to his beloved mystery/thriller formula. Unlike Frenzy, Torn Curtain, Topaz, or Marnie, we are concerned with a singular mystery that drives the plot forward and provides us with a good deal of suspense along the way. Will Arthur be reunited with the Rainbirds? Why did he kill his foster parents? Will he mistakenly kill Blanche and George before they can give him the good news?

The acting is a mixed bag. Harris is quite good in a charming, eccentric performance, one that distantly echoes Shirley MacLaine in The Trouble with Harry. At times she is serious, even petulant with George, and others she is comical and dramatic. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for the performance. Bruce Dern is capable and funny as the bumbling George. He had already worked with Hitchcock on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and had a cameo in Marnie. William Devane is perfect as the slimy, mustachioed Arthur, the greed obsessed villain of the film. I usually find Karen Black annoying, but here she is great as Fran, a thief and a kidnapper, but a considerate one.

I'm not sure whether to recommend Family Plot, but it deserves at least two or three viewings if you're going to watch it at all, as everyone seems unnerved by it first time around. Overall it feels like a warm farewell from one of the world's greatest directors. This whimsical little film is his fifty-third feature and though it was not intended to be the last, Blanche's final wink at the camera makes it seem appropriate in some way. It is funny, oddly charming and still hits some of the beats of his outright thriller. There's a single disc from Universal and it is also included in the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection box set, which I am reviewing. Included is a 45-minute documentary, Plotting Family Plot, which is full of pleasant interviews with cast and crew members, most of whom seemed to have had a good time on set and share their fond memories of Hitchcock.


Alfred Hitchcock, 1966
Starring: Paul Newman, Julie Andrews, Lila Kedrova, Hansjörg Felmy, Wolfgang Kieling

I think Torn Curtain is the only Hitchcock film I actually dislike. This somewhat flaccid Cold War thriller has a few excellent moments, but largely fails thanks to the two leads, Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, who are not only miscast but have zero on-screen chemistry. But the worst of Hitchcock is still better than most of the drivel available today.

At a scientific conference on a cruise ship in Europe, physicist Michael Armstrong flies to East Berlin and defects. His fiancée Sarah is distraught, but stubbornly follows him, despite the many risks. It is soon obvious that Armstrong's defection is covering up his real reason for being in East Germany. He is a counterspy hoping to steal certain missile formulas from their most brilliant scientist, Lindt. When Armstrong attempts to make contact with his escape network, Pi, he is followed by a Stasi agent, Gromek, whom he must brutally kill to keep the organization safe.

Gromek's disappearance eventually sheds suspicion on Armstrong when he is in Leipzig at the University and Sarah is interrogated. Armstrong is forced to tell Sarah the truth after he acquires the information from Lindt and they go on the run. This involves a terrifying bus trip and hiding in a theater full of Stasi agents until they are able to stow away in the prop containers of a Czech ballet troupe. They are fingered by an angry ballerina, but are able to safely escape to Swedish waters in the nick of time.

As I said, there are some great scenes and overall the film is fairly entertaining, but I can't stress how bad the two leads are, despite the fact that they are both accomplished actors. North by Northwest's Eva Marie Saint was supposed to star, but Hitchcock bowed to studio pressure and brought on Julie Andrews, who is entirely too police, too nice, and too British for the role. She also has some of the worst dialogue in the script. When she has to share the screen with Paul Newman, there is simply no way to believe they are lovers. Despite a steamy opening scene, their interactions are cold and businesslike. Newman supposedly argued a great deal with Hitchcock on set and insisted on using method acting, which Hitchcock despised. He was another star pressed on Hitchcock by the studio.

Another major obstacle is the script by Brian Moore, which was disliked so much by Hitchcock and Universal that it went through many uncredited re-writes. Part of the problem with Torn Curtain and many of his later films is that they depart from his earlier mystery/thriller formula. A third of the way into the film, we learn that Armstrong is a counter agent, not a defector. The rest of the film is predictable. He steals the formula and regains Sarah's trust. Despite some suspenseful setbacks, they escape the Iron Curtain. The script is dry, unemotional, and thoroughly un-sexy. It lacks surprise and, most unfortunately, any of the trademark black humor that so benefits Hitchcock's greatest films. I think an attempt to bring in humor was the introduction of a tedious side plot with a Polish Countess and the conclusion with the angry ballerina who is determined to get revenge on Armstrong because he unwittingly wounded her pride early in the film.

Another major issue is the removal of Hitchcock's greatest musical collaborator, Bernard Herrmann. Whether Herrmann quit or was fired is unclear, but the studio pressured Hitchcock to have a poppier, jazzier score with a theme song, possibly one for Andrews to sing. He refused and was replaced by John Addison, who churns out a very milquetoast score. Hermann's terrifying, if somewhat dramatic score is fantastic and it's interesting to see how it would have reshaped the film.

Though in subsequent years Torn Curtain has received a poor critical response, it did very well in the box office and does have some entertaining moments. There's a particularly horrifying scene where the Stasi agent, Gromek, is killed agonizingly slowly and with painstaking detail (arguably ripped off from Fritz Lang). I expected more from Hitchcock's fiftieth feature film, but check it out for yourself. There's a single disc DVD from Universal and it also appears in the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection box set. Included is a short documentary, Torn Curtain Rising, that details the film's difficult production history.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Alfred Hitchcock, 1964
Starring: Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery, Diane Baker, Louise Latham, Mariette Harley

One of Hitchcock's most polarizing films, Marnie is a flawed, but interesting work. It is also the only film in the director's canon that can be described as an outright psychosexual melodrama rather than a thriller with some of these elements, like Vertigo. Based on the novel of the same name by Winston Graham, Marnie concerns the titular character, a thief and a liar with serious psychological damage. She takes on various identities to get hired with no references at different firms and then flees with large sums of money. She also has an intense fear of thunderstorms and the color red, both of which bring on panic and desperation.

Her latest employer, Sidney Strutt, relates the upsetting news of Marnie's recent theft to his friend Mark Rutland, who owns a publishing company and has frequent business dealings with Strutt. Mark remembers Marnie because of her attractiveness and when she applies to work at his firm under a new identity, he hires her. When she inevitably steals from him, he blackmails her into marrying him instead of going to prison. To his family's disbelief they quickly marry, but on their honeymoon Marnie reveals her intense sexual phobia and Mark responds by raping her, attempting to "cure" her. She tries to kill herself in the cruise ship's pool, but he stops her.

Mark is desperate to understand Marnie and hopefully cure her of this behavior, despite her obvious hatred for him. He tracks down Marnie's mother and they both learn that Marnie has blocked out a particularly traumatic memory. When she was young, her mother was a prostitute. During a storm, one of her clients approached Marnie and her mother assumed he was trying to molest her. Her mother struggled with the man and in an effort to help, Marnie accidentally killed him with a fire poker. Learning the truth and remembering the trauma seems to help and Marnie agrees to try to make the marriage work.

Marnie was not successful in the theater, probably due to the strange marketing campaign and change in tone the film makes from Hitchcock's earlier works. For whatever reason, Marnie was advertised as a "Suspense Sex Mystery," which is unfairly misleading. Like Vertigothe film's main character deals with a crippling phobia and sexual repression, but unlike the former, does not solve a particular mystery. Though there is mystery, crime and suspense in Marnie, it essentially deals with an unfolding psychological drama and a sexual power play between the two main characters.

Among the chief complaints were criticisms of Hitchcock's use of special effects. In many cases there are matte paintings, projections, back drops, fake thunderstorms, and a red filter, all of which are obvious. Many positive critics explain that this is because Hitchcock wanted to achieve an expressionistic feel. Marnie is a story about a woman's attempts to reject reality and pursue a fantasy world, which is why I think these fake looking set pieces are intentional and essential to the film. Hitchcock's blending of the real and purposefully unreal result in some very interesting set pieces that are further proof of his technical artistry and love of experimentation. He uses both silence and sound to great effect and, sadly, this was the last time he would work with his greatest musical collaborator, Bernard Herrmann. It was also the last time he would work with a number of his long-time crew members, including DP Robert Burks and editor George Tomasini.

The acting has been another source of controversy for Marnie. This is the last film to have a "Hitchcock blonde" in a main role and the part was supposed to go to Grace Kelly, who had to withdraw for political reason. I'm glad it was Hedren, even though she gives a somewhat stilted, highly criticized performance. Part of the problem is that the role is incredibly challenging -- I don't think Grace Kelly would have been up for it -- and Hedren and Hitchcock had a huge falling out during shooting. This resulted in him directing her through a second party and refusing to have further contact. Despite this, her performance is brave and successfully evokes the fact that Marnie is still a child and has not sexually or emotionally progressed from the instance of trauma that kept her frozen in time and her adult personality fractured. Connery and Hedren have no chemistry, though I think this works in Hitchcock's favor and despite it, we hope for their success by the end of the film. Connery requested to work with Hitchcock and in 1964 was at the height of his career with the BOND films. He is icily charming, devastatingly handsome, and is perfect as Mark.

One of my favorite things about Hitchcock's filmmaking is his intricate use of themes. In Marnie these are more over the top than any other Hitchcock film. There is a particular emphasis on animal imagery. Mark's hobby is zoology and he makes it clear that part of his interest in Marnie is that he wants to hunt and then study her. First he identifies her with the exotic pets he collects, but later with horses, which Marnie has a special attachment to. Riding her horse is the only way she can truly escape the pain of reality. There is a scene at the racetrack, a first kiss in the stable and one of the most important scenes takes place during a hunt on horseback. There is also a more minor connection between sex and the sea. Marnie and Mark take a cruise for their honeymoon and their first sexual encounter occurs out to sea. After this, Marnie tries to drown herself. Her fear of storms seems to be sexual in nature and it is revealed at the conclusion that the man behind her phobias was a sailor. Her mother, who she has a particularly tense, loveless relationship with, lives in Baltimore right near the harbor.

I think this is one of Hitchcock's more underrated efforts and should be seen by adventurous fans of the great director. There is certainly some foolishness with the plot, which beats us over the head with Freudian theory, but as soon as you stop viewing this as an exercise in realism, it becomes a lot more interesting and enjoyable. There is a single disc from Universal and Marnie also appears in the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection, which is what I'm reviewing. It includes an informative documentary, The Trouble With Marnie, which explains a lot about production and the later controversy.


Alfred Hitchcock, 1972
Starring: Jon Finch, Alec McCowen, Barry Foster, Billie Whitelaw, Anna Massey

"If you can't make love, sell it."

A serial murderer is raping and killing women in London. Because he strangles them with a tie, he becomes known as the "Necktie Murderer." When he kills a woman who runs her own matchmaking company, her ex-husband, Richard Blaney, is arrested due to circumstantial evidence. Blaney's close friend, Bob Rusk, is actually the murderer and is all too happy that someone else has taken the fall. Though Blaney is innocent, he is an unemployed alcoholic with a violent temper and a streak of bad luck a mile wide. The detective inspector, who is being driven crazy by his wife's new cooking hobby, begins to suspect Blaney is the wrong man.

Even though this is Hitchcock's second to last film, it is one of his best and ties for my favorite with Shadow of a Doubt, a completely different kind of serial killer film. The screenplay was written by Anthony Shaffer (The Wicker Man and a number of well-regarded Agatha Christie adaptations) and is based on Arthur La Bern’s novel, Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square. This is Hitchcock's last film to use his beloved "wrong man" scenario and while I usually dislike this trope, it works particularly well in Frenzy.

The film was considered particularly controversial for the use of nudity and violence, though this reputation is exaggerated by today's standards. While it is Hitchcock's only film to receive an R rating, the only murder shown in-camera is Blaney's ex-wife Brenda, while the others are merely implied – though what we don't see is equally grisly. Critics have made complaints that Hitchcock loses his touch here and abandons the "less the more" philosophy that made films like Psycho and Rear Window so suspenseful and terrifying. I would argue that by graphically showing the first murder and denying our voyeuristic gaze for the rest of the film, he fulfills two functions. First, he is not afraid to show how ugly and horrible death can be, particularly sex crimes. Second, there is nothing gratuitous about the rape and murder, it is meticulously planned. Hitchcock sets up a pattern where he shows us more than we planned to see and then fills us with a repeating anxiety that it will occur again. Brenda's death is an intensely personal, brutal and claustrophobic event we cannot look away from and we cannot help but relive throughout the film.

The sickening violence is both balanced and bolstered by an unpleasant but affective amount of black comedy. Much of this involves food, which is one of the major themes of the film. The Chief Inspector constantly argues with his wife, who has taken up gourmet cooking classes, but produces unpalatable French dishes when he only wants simpler English fare. Their scenes indicate that the only positive, normative relationship in the film is still a political act based on irritating compromises rather than genuine affection.Continuing with the food theme, Rusk is a fruit and vegetable dealer. There is a particularly grim but humorous scene where he tries to retrieve a clue from the hand of a corpse and gets carried off in a potato truck while the body is seizing into rigor mortis. He is forced to cut off the woman's fingers to rescue his tie-tack.

There is a lot of humorous dialogue, though it is rife with nasty, mean-spirited comments. Mirroring a scene in Shadow of a Doubt where two side characters have an enthusiastic conversation about murder, there is a scene where two men graphically discuss sex crimes and another where two others relate that the killer rapes his victims. One replies it is "good to know every cloud has a silver lining!"

I regard Frenzy as one of Hitchcock's best films, partly because it is his most misanthropic. It culminates in a number of themes he explored throughout his career and is a film about rage, perversion, the futility of hope, and the meaninglessness of life. Society is corrupt at its basest level and marriage is a sham meant to keep people permanently unhappy. Sexual relationships are about exploitation and control and love is an illusion. These themes are touched upon in nearly all of his films to varying degrees, even the comedy The Trouble with Harry, but they are at their most extreme here.

Women are whores or victims, sometimes both, while the men in the film are deeply flawed at best and are indiscriminate sexual predators at worst. Bodies are reduced to their basest levels. It is odd that so many parallels are drawn between Frenzy and Psycho, when a more fitting parallel exists between Frenzy and its direct predecessor, one of Hitchcock's earliest films, The Lodger (1926). In many ways, Frenzy is a more brutal remake of the silent film, including the ill-fated, wrongly accused man, his naive girlfriend, a serial killer, and the setting of London on hard times.

It is particularly fitting that Hitchcock returned to England after nearly thirty years to shoot this film and that much of it was done around the Covent Garden market area his father worked in. In Frenzy this area is full of the lowest common denominators of London society: gangsters, whores, alcoholics and poor tradesmen trying to scrape a living. Many other scenes occur in bars filled with similar clientele. In many ways, it shares a tone with Sondheim's Sweeney Todd musical from later that decade, also about a wrongly accused man, serial murder, misogyny, and the filth of the city. Sweeney sings that "There's a hole in the world like a great black pit/ and the vermin of the world inhabit it/ and its morals aren't worth what a pig could spit/ and it goes by the name of London." I can't help but feel that most of the characters in Frenzy would agree.

As usual, the cinematography by Gil Taylor, a regular Polanski collaborator, is breathtaking and technically stunning. There's a masterful scenic opening shot of the Thames, which we soon learn contains the dead, floating body of one of Rusk's victims. There's also a particularly amazing tracking shot where Rusk takes a victim to his apartment. We see them go up the stairs, knowing what will occur, but the camera goes back out onto the street where the poor woman's screams are ignored by passersby.

The performances are good, but are occasionally weakened by the writing. Jon Finch (Macbeth) stars as Blaney, an almost impossible character to play. He is essentially sympathetic, but he is so down and out, so tripped up at every turn, that it is hard to actually like him or identify with him. Instead, Barry Foster's Bob Rusk, the charming, blonde serial killer, is more likable and I felt uncomfortable rooting for him as much as I did. Michael Caine was supposed to be cast in the role and would have been perfect, but found the part too repulsive. Foster is excellent as both the comedic and terrifying backbone of the film. Anna Massey manages to be a mixture of sexy and naive, even if she is not one of Hitch's traditionally hot blondes. Alec McCowen's Inspector is my favorite role in the film. Like many a Hitchcock Chief Inspector before him (Dial M for Murder’s Chief Inspector Hubbard takes the cake) he manages to be the seemingly bumbling, charming, funny, moral center of the film.

It takes a while to get to know Frenzy, but it is the culmination of Hitchcock's themes and interests as a filmmaker. There is a mix of the foulest macabre, blackest humor and a "wrong man" driven into the corner when he's dealt a lousy hand by fate. Though there are a few flaws, plot holes, and a lengthy two hour running time, Hitchcock rises above an overly filmed premise to bring us one of his most interesting and unsettling films. Pick up the single disc Universal DVD or find Frenzy in the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection box set, which is the disc I am reviewing.


Alfred Hitchcock, 1948
Starring: Jimmy Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Joan Chandler, Sir Cedric Hardwicke

Rope is Hitchcock's most experimental film and allegedly one he hated, calling it a "failed experiment." Based on the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, this was inspired by the Leopold and Loeb trial, where two upper middle class college students of above-average intelligence  killed a teenaged boy in 1924 in order to see if they could commit the perfect crime. The film is shot in such a way that it appears to be almost a single, continuous take and is captured in real time. It is also the first film where Hitchcock used Technicolor, which he does with surgical precision.

Two young men, Brandon and Phillip, calmly strangle their friend David to death with a rope in the parlor of their apartment. They are attempting to commit the perfect murder in order to prove their superior intellects, inspired by the concept of Nietzsche's Superman, something they learned from an old favorite teacher, Rupert Cadell. They stash the body in a wooden chest just before a dinner party. David was supposed to be a guest at the party and his father, aunt and fiancee Janet are all present, as well as Janet's ex-boyfriend Kenneth, another close friend of David's. Their teacher Cadell is also invited, because they think he will appreciate the artistry of their crime. Brandon, who is clearly the dominant member of the pair, has the idea to use the wooden chest as a table for the dinner buffet, hoping to up the stakes and continues to mention David's absence throughout the party, inspiring an increasing amount of panic in the guests.

The most important element of ROPE is the impressive level of experimentation Hitchcock was able to achieve with a major studio film. Shot in nine takes, each roughly ten minutes, the sequences were carefully planned and almost completely eliminated editing. Hitchcock's constant use of long shots and panning allowed him to make some of the cuts invisible, so the film appears to be almost continuous. Like a theatrical stage, there was a single mobile set, most of it on wheels, that could move in and out to allow for the cameras to have unparalleled freedom. The actors and microphone techs were given specifically choreographed cues.

This dazzling technological prowess allows the camera to be come a character of its own. It literally acts as the roving eye of the spectator, moving back and forth between characters and shots of the wooden chest that we know contains David's body. This is a film concerned supremely with visual spectacle and the cinematography is only interested in how the physical actions of suspense unfolds. As a result, the camera provides most of the emotional impact in the film, which is a truly stunning achievement considering the confining set and mostly undeveloped characters. This is probably Hitchcock's smallest scale film with the exception of Lifeboat. Though Hitch considered it a failure, Truffaut correctly called Rope a "painstaking quest for realism." This also explains some of the film's flaws -- wooden acting and a slow pace -- but it is an inspiring work worth watching for anyone interested in filmmaking or classic cinema.

Rope is also a difficult film because of its icy premise. The script is concerned with a moral lack, with a character who is interested in the art of murder and in proving his intellectual superiority above all else. Brandon, who believes himself to be a sort of philosophical Superman, is half Nietzsche and half Wilde, because of his foppish, effeminate behavior and need for wit and word play. He is also intellectually related to Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, another man who murders just to see if he can. Brandon's lines in the film are rich with macabre humor, which is really quite repulsive if you think about it carefully. He has killed his friend and is now serving dinner on top of the body to his friend's loves ones.

Phillip's character unfortunately pales in comparison, but he provides necessary dramatic tension as he begins to hysterically come undone throughout the course of the film. Much has been written about the homosexual subtext of the relationship between Brandon and Phillip, ostensibly based on the gay Leopold and Loeb, and if there ever was an ambiguously gay duo, it is Brandon and Phillip. Though there are no direct references to their sexual relationship, the film hints at it so strongly that the poor box office reception was supposedly because of the gay subtext. There is also an undeniable connection between things hidden and secret: the secret sexual relationship and the secret murder. Brandon is desperate to flaunt his secret and repeatedly admits to having a passionate hatred for anything normal or ordinary. He mocks David and Janet's conventional heterosexual relationship and tries to stir trouble by involving Kenneth in the mix.

Ultimately Rope is a parlor room melodrama and should be approach with caution by film newbies. On the surface level, it immediately kicks off with a graphic murder and has trouble focusing and maintaining tension throughout the rest of the film. The character we are the most drawn to, David, never appears after his murder, though he is central to the film. Instead, we have to suffer through a slew of mostly flat, uninteresting characters. Jimmy Stewart, in his first starring role for Hitchcock, is sub-par, falling prey to some unfortunate philosophical musings throughout the film.

Regardless of these minor flaws, the film comes highly recommended. It is truly a turning point in Hitchcock's career as a major filmmaker and technical innovator, even if it is a more underrated effort. Rope is available as a single disc DVD from Warner Bros. or as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection, which is the version I am reviewing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Granada Television, 1984 - 1985
Starring: Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Rosalie Williams

Jeremy Brett was and remains to be the greatest actor to portray Sherlock Holmes, no disrespect intended to Basil Rathbone. Brett starred in a number of Holmes-themed TV series and feature films produced by the British company Granada Television from 1984 to 1994. Production ceased when Brett fell ill, dying of heart failure soon after. Based on his excellent performances, these films and episodes became wildly popular in the UK and the US, ensuring that the series has been frequently re-broadcast over the years, is available in a wide number of formats for home viewing and is currently streaming on Netflix.

Though the show is known both as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes, Adventures technically refers to the first season, which ran two years and spans 13 episodes, each 60 minutes long. This season was produced by Michael Cox and was written and developed by John Hawkesworth. The title The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes refers to the first published collection of Holmes short stories written by Conan Doyle. Not all of the 12 stories are represented in the first season, however. About half the stories are excluded in favor of more beloved works and "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" was later adapted as a feature length film. I highly recommend this collection, which is available in its entirely at Project Gutenberg.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes features the following episodes, which are named after corresponding stories. Note: the episode titles drop "The Adventure of..." which every story title in this season contains, with the exception of "A Scandal in Bohemia."

1. "A Scandal in Bohemia" is based on the first Holmes story to be published in the famous magazine where Conan Doyle got his start, The Strand, and was later published in the Adventures collection. Holmes has a run in with Irene Adler, who is one of the only characters to outwit him and certainly the only woman to do so. He is hired by the future King of Bohemia to retrieve some blackmail photographs taken by Adler, who he had an affair with and who is threatening to ruin his impending marriage.

2. "The Dancing Men" appears in the later collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes, which is the first book published after Conan Doyle attempted to kill off Holmes, but failed due to his immense popularity. Holmes and Watson visit the Norfolk countryside to solve a case involving a series of strange stick figures written all over an estate. A local lord's young American wife is on the brink of nervous hysteria over the figures, which resemble dancing men. Holmes realizes the men are a cipher, but can he crack the code in time? This episode is one of my favorites and is a welcome inclusion.

3. "The Naval Treaty" was featured in the story collection The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Watson's old friend, Percy Phelps, needs help when a naval treaty is stolen from the foreign affairs office he works in. It seems impossible that someone could have stolen the treaty, based on the construction of the building and location of his office, as well as the suspects apprehended after the fact. Can Holmes find it before Phelps's life and reputation are ruined?

4. "The Solitary Cyclist" is from Return and concerns a young girl named Violet who has become involved in a curious set of circumstances. After her father's death she is contacted by two men who have recently arrived from South Africa. They claim to have known her deceased uncle, who supposedly said he wanted his surviving family provided for. The nicer of the two men offers her an unusually well-paying job as a music teacher and governess for his young daughter. The second man is rude and repulsive, frequently making unwanted advances on her. In addition to this, a mysterious bearded man has begun to follow her whenever she rides her bicycle. Can Holmes unravel the mystery in time to save Violet?

5. "The Crooked Man" appears in Memoirs and is an oddly tragic tale. Holmes is investigating a case in which a woman is believed to have killed her soldier husband and brings Watson in for some medical advice. Partly due to a missing key and some claw marks at the scene, Holmes thinks a third party is responsible. He tracks down the "crooked" man, who relates his sad story.

6. "The Speckled Band," one of my favorite stories, is part of the Adventure collection and is one of the few Holmes stories than can be considered a "locked room mystery." A young woman hires Holmes to investigate the death of her twin sister. The girls' stepfather is increasingly unpleasant, probably due to the fact that if either of the girls married, they would take a considerable chunk of their mother's fortune with them. As Helen, the surviving twin, is due to be married, she fears for her life. When her stepfather forces her to move out of her bedroom and into a different room in the house, Holmes intervenes with the hope of saving her life.

7. "The Blue Carbuncle" is included in the Adventures collection and is basically a Sherlock Holmes Christmas story. Holmes is investigating a Christmas goose that was on its way to be eaten until a carbuncle (or gemstone) was found in its throat. The only clue is a battered old hat. He tracks down the hat's owner, who is ignorant of the crime and Holmes realizes the jewel belongs to a visiting Countess. Can Holmes find the culprit with so few clues?

8. "The Copper Beeches" is also in the Adventures collection and is another one of my favorite stories. A young lady named Violet gets advice from Holmes about a governess position with curious conditions. She will be paid an enormous salary, but has to cut off her beautiful hair, among other odd things. Ultimately her employer seems pleasant enough, so she takes the job at his estate, the Cooper Beeches. After a short time she contacts Holmes, who brings Watson to investigate the increasingly bizarre things Violet is asked to do. One of the most genuinely creepy stories, this is an excellent adaptation.

9. "The Greek Interpreter," found in Memoirs, is the first time we encounter Mycroft in either the series or Conan Doyle's stories. I love Mycroft. He contacts Holmes about his neighbor, a Greek interpreter, who was hired for a very suspicious job by a man named Latimer. The interpreter was asked to translate for a Greek man who has obviously been kidnapped. Latimer wanted the man to sign some papers and the interpreter secretly discovered his unfortunate plight during their conversation. The man refused to sign over property to Latimer and said something about a woman being in trouble. Intrigued, Holmes agrees to get to the bottom of things and places an advertisement in the paper that leads he and Watson down a dangerous path. This is the first time that the TV series makes some significant plot changes in order to better suit running time and a dramatic conclusion.

10. "The Norwood Builder" appears in Return and concerns Jonas Oldacre, a missing builder who appears to have been murdered during a fire. The main suspect is his lawyer, John McFarlane. He gets arrested, but Lestrade agrees to hear his tale where he insists on his innocence. Holmes notes that there is something suspicious about the different drafts of wills and his investigation paints an increasingly blacker portrait of Oldacre.

11. "The Resident Patient," which is included in Memoirs, is another one of my favorite mysteries. A young doctor, Trevelyan, consults Holmes about his investor, a man named Blessington, who is obsessive about the doctor's books and goes over the accounts religiously. Blessington has become paranoid about theft around the same time Trevelyan acquires a new patient, a Russian who is disposed to have fits. The Russian and his son disappear, but return the next day with a plausible story. Blessington insists someone has been in his rooms. Holmes tries to investigate, but Blessington refuses to help him and is later found hanged in his bedroom. Though the police believe it to be suicide, Holmes knows otherwise and begins to hunt for a murderer.

12. "The Red-Headed League" is from Adventures and is not only my favorite Conan Doyle story, but is also the greatest Holmes story with a comic flavor. Though the episode takes certain liberties with the plot, it is still close to the original, which concerns a red-headed businessman named Jabez Wilson. He consults Holmes and Watson after being fired from a part time job. This job was suggested to him by his assistant and he was hired out of a large pool of red-haired men. He did meaningless office work for a large sum of money every week, until he received a notice saying "The Red-Headed League is dissolved." It turns out that there never was a Red-Headed League and, according the the landlord, his employer didn't exist. Though he laughs at Wilson, Holmes discovers a plot involving bank robbery. This adaptation changes things by involving Moriarty as the mastermind behind it all.

13. "The Final Problem" appears in Memoirs and is the famous story that pits Holmes and Moriarty against each other once and for all. For some reason this has never been one of my favorites, probably because Conan Doyle attempts to kill off the world's greatest consulting detective and the Napoleon of crime all in one go. Essentially Moriarty has had enough of Holmes's interference and attempts to kil him when he is getting close to turning Moriarty over to Scotland Yard. Holmes sneaks off to Europe with Watson in tow and Moriarty follows them. They wind up at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, where Moriarty distracts Watson with a ruse and he and Holmes duke it out over the Falls.

The first season is the best and if you're going to take the time to watch any episodes, it should be from Adventures. Though there is a strict degree of faithfulness through out the entire show, the first season represents some of the best stories and the most direct adaptations. There are excellent production values and immense attention to detail, both in recreating Conan Doyle's world and maintaining period realism. The sets are absolutely beautiful and range between Baker Street, Victorian London and the British countryside. The complete Baker Street replica, built in studio by Granada, was available as a tourist attraction in Manchester until about ten years ago.

The real reason to watch the series, of course, is Jeremy Brett. He provides some warmth and humor to Holmes, particularly in his interactions with Watson. The close friendship between he and the good doctor is at the heart of the show and this was one of the first long running adaptations to give them a more even relationship. Brett also possesses Holmes's manic energy and almost physically palpable sense of intelligence. There have been some criticisms that Brett is too over the top, but Holmes is never what I would call a subdued character, ranging from explosive, manic energy during crime solving to deep depression when stuck at home without a case. 

David Burke's Watson is my favorite of all time, with MURDER BY DECREE's James Mason in second place. He is warm, funny and down to earth, showing a begrudging tolerance for Holmes's more absurd antics. Unfortunately Burke left the show after Adventures and was replaced by an almost equal Edward Hardwicke.

Adventures was followed by several more series and a few feature length films. Immediately after Adventures is The Return of Sherlock Holmes, then The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes and finally The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, all named after different Conan Doyle story collections. It should be noted that Brett was sick and essentially dying during the filming of Memoirs, which many fans have claimed to be the most inferior of the series. As a result of his illness, Charles Gray stepped in more frequently as Mycroft to allow filming to continue. The feature films are The Sign of the Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Master Blackmailer, based on "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton," The Last Vampyre, my personal favorite and based on "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire," and The Eligible Bachelor, based on "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor." What is particularly impressive about the series as a whole is that out of 60 Holmes stories written by Conan Doyle, Granada managed to adapt 42 of them.

You can find all of the episodes in The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes: Boxed Set Collection, which is a reasonably priced 5-disc set released by MPI, though there are limited special features. Also available is the staggering Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series, which contains all four seasons and five feature films. Also released by MPI, there are 12 discs and more special features, including a few commentary tracks and some interviews.

The game is afoot!

Monday, March 19, 2012


Bob Clark, 1979
Starring: Christopher Plummer, James Mason, David Hemmings, Susan Clarke, Anthony Quayle

"Justice howling at the moon."

Though Murder by Decree is widely ignored, I think it is one of the greatest Sherlock Holmes films ever made. It is not derived from any Conan Doyle story, but pits the world's great detective against the world's most infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper. When Saucy Jack starts gutting prostitutes around Whitechapel, London is in an outrage. Scotland Yard fails to contact Holmes for help, but a group of disgruntled citizens "hire" him to take the case. He uncovers a link to the Freemasons, a royal scandal, a love affair gone bad, and a woman wrongly committed to an asylum. Though I generally hate the subgenre, this is a conspiracy film at heart. To give any more of the plot away would spoil Murder by Decree and we can't have that.

Helmed by Bob Clark, one of my favorite directors, this would make an interesting double feature with his slasher flick Black Christmas. Both films are heavy with atmosphere, though in Murder by Decree Clark is incredibly restrained, maintaining thrills and scares with suspense and mood rather than gore or violence. The tension and mystery are both helped along by some very claustrophobic POV shots, refusing to show us Jack even though we are forced to witness his crimes. It is truly a beautiful film, full of fog and darkness. Clark uses the impressive Victorian London set design almost as a stand alone character, framing as many shots as possible with gnarled trees, wrought iron fences, gas lamps, and other period staples.

This was an English/Canadian co-production and in addition to the Canadian Clark, the strong cast is almost evenly divided between the two countries. I would recommend the film simply for the dream team of Plummer and Mason as Holmes and Watson. Plummer's Holmes is not lifted directly from Conan Doyle's text. He presents a more sensitive, human Holmes, who is not afraid to mix humor with his trademark arrogance and icy resolve. James Mason is the absolute Watson. Mason doesn't play him as a bumbler or below-average intelligence sidekick, rather he emphasizes his medical skills and his steadfast, trustworthy nature, frequently providing Holmes with a dose of common sense. The rest of the cast is rounded out with some wonderful performances by Genevieve Bujold, Donald Sutherland, John Gielgud, and David Hemmings.

The Holmes-Ripper plot was semi-popular at the time and Murder by Decree has a number of connections to other works of film and literature from the period. It has a close plot similarity with 1965's inferior A Study in Terror. There is another film from the same year that pits H.G. Wells against Jack the Ripper, Time After Time, though this is more of a sci-fi thriller than a murder mystery. Plummer also played Holmes two years previously in the '77 made for TV film Silver Blaze, which is an adaptation of the Conan Doyle story of the same name.

Murder by Decree's original script by John Hopkins is said to be based on Elwyn Jones and John Lloyd's book The Ripper File, but it also bears similarities to Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution by Stephen Knight. Both books examine existing Ripper clues and attempt to connect the crimes to the upper echelons of British society, dipping all the way into Freemasons and royalty. These books and Murder by Decree were an obvious inspiration for Alan Moore's absolutely sublime comic From Hell and the abominable film adaptation starring Johnny Depp. For Sherlockians out there, also check out The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, a poorly named pastiche novel from the '70s by Michael Dibdin, which also sets Holmes against the Ripper, but manages to tie in Moriarty. There is a well-received more recent attempt at the same, Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson, by Lyndsay Faye.

Though unavailable to movie-lovers and Sherlockians alike for many years, there is a fairly good Anchor Bay DVD available. It has a restored print, though there are still some scratches and the sound is occasionally muddy. This DVD includes a handful of extras, namely a nice commentary track with Clark, who is more than eager to run through the film's production history. Murder by Decree comes highly, highly recommended. If you are only going to see one Sherlock Holmes film, this should definitely be it.


Thom Eberhardt, 1988
Starring: Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Jeffrey Jones, Lysette Anthony, Paul Freeman

Sherlock Holmes spoofs are unfortunately as inevitable as they are timeless. So far there are more satirical books than films, but Without a Clue takes an honest stab at turning Holmes and Watson on their heads in this endearing if thoroughly uneven film.

Directed by Thom Eberhardt of Captain Ron fame, the premise is that Dr. Watson is a crime-solving and literary genius. He has invented a literary figure, Sherlock Holmes, who has become so popular that no one will believe Watson's genius and he is forced to hire an actor. Enter Reginald Kincaid, a drunk, gambling, womanizing idiot who cares about no one but himself. He can barely remember the lines Watson carefully scripts for him and frequently comes close to blowing a case. Despite these things, the press, police force, and government love him. When Watson fires him, fed up and jealous, he is forced to drag Kincaid back to solve a mystery that involves counterfeiting pound-notes and the Bank of England. This leads Holmes, Watson, one of the young Irregulars and the jealous, clumsy Lestrade to the countryside, where they team up with a missing bank manager's daughter. Of course, Moriarty is behind it all, but he kills Watson, forcing the blundering Holmes to work through the clues and solve the case.

The major flaw of Without a Clue is that it is based around the concept of a brilliant Watson and a bumbling Holmes -- which is admittedly excellent thanks to two great performances -- but it doesn't go much farther than this. The film starts out strong, but the jokes get old and the middle of the film drags quite a bit. When Holmes/Kincaid is forced to prove his merit, things get interesting again and there is quite an amusing second half. Over all I enjoyed it, but the real reason to see the film is for Kingsley's exasperated Watson and the ever wonderful Michael Caine as Holmes/Kincaid.

There are a lot of flaws. There aren't very strong or compelling side characters, which makes this an interesting but failed attempt. Though Jeffrey Jones (Beetlejuice) is amusing as the frustrated Lestrade, Lysette Anthony (Krull) as the bank manager's daughter is incredibly irritating and provides neither romantic intrigue or comic relief. The film involves lots of scenery chewing, though there are some lovely set pieces to do this on -- Victorian buildings, underground tunnels, abandoned theaters and so on. There is plenty of intellectual humor, witty fast-talking, slapstick and physical comedy, but I would still only recommend it for fans of spoof humor or devoted Sherlockians. There is a basic region 1 DVD available from MGM.

Sherlock, Season One

Created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

I've been a Sherlock Holmes nerd since I was a kid. Someone, probably my dad, gave me a copy of "Hound of the Baskervilles" and that was the beginning of the end. Since then I've read every Holmes story, many of them multiple times over the years, and have even choked down some cross overs and non-Conan Doyle attempts at the character. As a result, I was nervous about yet another film/TV adaptation of the Great Detective's antics. I'm a huge fan of the long running Jeremy Brett series (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) and there is no way anyone can reasonably compare.

To my surprise and delight, the BBC's Sherlock went in a completely different direction. The stories are updated to the present day and include new twists on old favorites, while retaining many of the original, beloved plot details and characters. The fairest thing I can say about this show is that it's a mash up of Conan Doyle and Doctor Who, which makes sense considering creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss also write and produce the current incarnation of Doctor Who. And I absolutely adore anything they create, particularly Mark Gatiss, who co-stars in a few episodes as Mycroft. This is also an excellent example of how to use modern-day technology within suspense fiction.

Season one is made up of three 90 minute episodes, which premiered in 2010. The first episode, "A Study in Pink," is based on Conan Doyle's novel A Study in Scarlet. There are a string of serial suicides all around the city and Holmes is convinced one man is responsible. He meets Dr. John Watson, recently returned from the war in Afghanistan with an injured leg and the need to rent a cheap flat. Holmes and Watson slowly become friends and Holmes takes Watson on the case. There are a lot of great tie-ins to A Study in Scarlet, namely clues found at the scene of the crime.

The second episode is "The Blind Banker," which starts off with a break in at a local bank, where one of Holmes's acquaintances hires him to get to the bottom of things. He discovers a strange, spray-painted code and things quickly escalate to murder, leading Holmes and Watson on the trial of Chinese smugglers. They run into book codes, the Chinese circus, ancient valuables, kidnapping, and more murder. Though still well written, well acted and enjoyable, this is probably the least of the three episodes.

"The Great Game" is the final episode and drags Holmes inexorably towards his arch-nemesis, Moriarty. Holmes is hired by his brother Mycroft to investigate the suspicious death of a government employee, but is distracted by a mysterious assassin playing deadly mind games. He rigs a series of victims with explosives and will only set them free if Holmes can solve a variety of cold cases in time. Holmes and Moriarty have an eventual stand-off, leading to a cliff hanger that may cost Watson his life.

If you are a Holmes fan or like quirky crime drama, the series comes highly recommended. There are a lot of great things about it, particularly the casting. Benedict Cumberbatch is great as Holmes. He plays up the unlikable angle, even suggesting that the character suffers from Asperger's Syndrome. Eventually we learn through Watson that he is a decent, caring person and has welcome moments of humor. The series also gives Holmes a dark side, presenting him as a barely contained sociopath who fits into society only because he has complicated problems and puzzles to solve. Martin Freeman is a welcome inclusion as Watson, giving the character a warm, Everyman sort of appeal and making him seem like less of a dunce than other adaptations have. Watson is still a doctor returning from the traumas of a war in the Middle East, which has a freshly topical appeal given the current, ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. And though there are only light touches of it, he remains to be a charming womanizer.

There are also regular appearances from Lestrade, played by Rupert Graves, who gives the character a serious angle and removes the bumbling humor of past adaptations. Una Stubbs's Mrs. Hudson is also very likable. Her close relationship with Holmes provides the character with a much needed human element, though he is also a source of comical irritation for her. Mark Gatiss is an excellent Mycroft: arrogant, brilliant and frequently charming, but is entirely too physically active. During Mycroft's first appearance there are some in jokes about how he is on a diet. At first I was uncertain about Mycroft's character, but Gatiss has completely won me over, particularly after re-watching the season and finishing season two. The somewhat secret linchpin to the whole series, for me, is Moriarty. At first I disliked Andrew Scott's Moriarty, but he has completely won me over. Like Sherlock, he is brilliant and calculating, but here, unlike other adaptations, he is a complete psychopath. He has an irritating high-pitched voice and some bizarrely feminine habits, but overall he is an adequately terrifying villain.

Sherlock comes highly recommended, not only by me. The show received great critical reception and won a BAFTA award for Best Drama series in 2011. Season one is available on DVD, Season two is finished and a third is slated for sometime in early 2013. Also look out for Freeman and Cumberbatch in Peter Jackson's long-awaited fantasy epic, The Hobbit.